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Victoria Azarenka was asked to remove a shirt she was wearing in bizarre scenes before her semi-final clash with Elena Rybakina at the Australian Open. Rybakina proved too strong for Azarenka on Thursday night, winning 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 to seal her spot in the final against Aryna Sabalenka.
Things went wrong for Azarenka as soon as she walked out onto court, with chair umpire Alison Hughes asking her to remove a Paris St Germain football shirt she was wearing. Azarenka has previously explained how she wears the PSG shirt for her son Leo, who wants to play for the French club one day.
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The Belarusian star has been spotted wearing the shirt a number of times at Melbourne Park, donning it for a post-match interview after making the semi-final and again on Thursday night. The 33-year-old had been planning to wear it to warm up against Rybakina, but Hughes had other ideas.
The chair umpire could be seen ordering Azarenka to remove the shirt, asking that she warm up in her playing outfit instead. Azarenka lifted the lid on the incident after the match, saying she thinks it might have been a sponsorship issue.
“They told me to take it off twice because I had a different shirt,” she told reporters in her post-match press conference. “I think it’s the issue with the sponsorships. I guess the logos are too big … I know that I’m not allowed to play in that. I knew those type of things.
“But I can still step on the court in what I want to step on the court. I do it for my own reasons. My son wore the white jersey today to his practice, and I tried to wear a white jersey to my match but couldn’t. So that’s okay.”
The PSG playing shirt normally features a large Qatar Airways logo on the front, which is not an official sponsor of the Australian Open. However the one Azarenka has been wearing doesn’t feature any sponsor logos.
There were similar scenes at the French Open last year when Camila Giorgi was asked to change her outfit because of a large DeLonghi logo. She was seen wearing an outfit without the logo in her next match.
Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka in the Australian Open final
Things didn’t get much better for Azarenka as she went out in straight sets. The 33-year-old was bidding to join Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Kim Clijsters as the only players to win a grand slam singles crown after becoming mothers.
Rybakina’s victory was her third in a row over a grand slam champion. She beat World No.1 and reigning French and US Open champion Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, before beating 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko in the quarter-finals.
“I’m super happy and proud,” the Kazakh said. “It’s an incredible atmosphere and I’m super happy to be in the finals and play one more time here.”
Sabalenka later beat Magda Linette 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 to advance to her first grand slam final. The Belarusian is yet to drop a set in a 10-match unbeaten streak in Australia this summer.
“I’m super happy. Super happy that I was able to get this win,” Sabalenka said after losing the first three grand slam semi-finals of her career. “I would say that I didn’t start really well and then, in the tiebreak, I kind of find my rhythm and just start trusting myself, start going for the shots, and, yeah, it was great tennis from me.”
Sabalenka is 3-0 in her career against Rybakina, winning all three in three sets. But Wimbledon champion Rybakina seems a different player now, and is eyeing off a second grand slam title in less than eight months.
“For sure I got a lot of experience from Wimbledon and, to be honest, I just want to come on court and really enjoy the moment, enjoy the atmosphere because it’s really amazing,” she said. “We see how it’s going to go but for sure I try my best. I fight and, yeah, hopefully I’m going to win.”
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